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Saint John considering building ‘managed encampment site’ to combat homelessness

As the number of people sleeping rough throughout New Brunswick continues to increase, public officials in Saint John, N.B., are considering a “managed encampment site” for the city.

Saint John Mayor Donna Reardon said the recent death of 44-year-old Peter Evan Ralph McArthur, who died after a fire broke out at a tent encampment on Jan. 7, is a prime indication of the safety risks associated with living outdoors during the winter months.

“We know that tents aren’t safe, and we know that better tents are really just better poverty,” she said in an interview with Global News on Wednesday. “At the end of the day, we need to get people into some transitional housing at least.”

Reardon said that the idea would be to build small wooden structures that would be in close proximity to locations that provide everyday necessities.

“The options that we’re probably looking at are small 10-by-10 arrangements — tiny units. We would need a piece of property to put them on, a flat piece of property. It should be close to amenities, it should be close to bus stops, grocery stores, drugstores, and services that people would use,” she said, adding that the city has contacted both provincial and federal governments for information on property options for the “tiny village.”

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“We’re all coming together to try to solve this issue, or at least get it on a better path.”

The mayor said that the approach would be aligned with a “transitional plan” to assist individuals with locating permanent housing by strengthening communications between the city and those experiencing homelessness.

“We all need a place where we can put our head down, have a locked door, know we’re safe and secure, and have a proper night’s sleep,” she continued, adding that a 40-bed ‘out of the cold’ shelter recently opened in the city — with an additional space dedicated to providing hot meals and amenities expected to commence operations in early February.

Reardon said that electricity, garbage collection, and other essential services would be provided at the site if it were to move forward.

As of now, the mayor said a specific timeline is yet to be determined regarding when the encampment would be set up.

“Whatever it takes to get this rural village up and running, we’re on board for it,” she said.

She added that the purpose of investing in an encampment site as an alternative to a shelter is that it could be assembled at a quicker rate, which is crucial as temperatures drop and some resort to unsafe heating methods.

“It gives us, hopefully, the opportunity to reduce the tent encampments because we know they’re dangerous, they’re too cold and people are at risk of fires in them. It’s not a good setup.”

Man lost limb to frostbite, volunteer says

Johanne McCullough, a volunteer with Street Team SJ, said she’d support the implementation of a secure encampment site that offers improved shelter throughout the winter months, as a man living in a tent encampment recently lost a limb due to frostbite.

“There are some people who are not comfortable for one reason or another going to a shelter so they will try to tough it out in their tents, and it’s of course totally not appropriate because they can’t keep as warm as they need to be and protect their limbs,” she said.

“It’s half of his other foot as well. He had a bilateral amputation. He certainly can’t go back to living outside, so we’re waiting to hear what he’ll have as a support mechanism to allow him to be able to heal and recover properly.”

McCullough said although it isn’t a “one-solution-fits-all” issue, a managed encampment would be a good first step.

“It’s a leap ahead, much better than trying to stay in a tent that’s not meant for long-term living. It can’t stand up to the wind, rain, and the cold,” she said.

“If we can get actual solid structures that are heated and actually have a light source inside, I think that would go a long way.”

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